16 MAY 1987, Page 6


IWashington t is extraordinary how confident and articulate Americans are. I cannot recall ever meeting one who was at a loss for words or gave the impression of being shy. They must all be educated from an early age in the arts of social intercourse and self-projection. One is struck by this, watching the witnesses who appear before Congress for interrogation, as in the cur- rent Iran-Contra hearings. Most British people, I imagine, would find this abso- lutely terrifying, but Americans seem to take it in their stride. Even those who have never been called upon before to speak in public or appear on television look as if they have undergone special 'media train- ing'. People who are not naturally articu- late are nevertheless programmed like computers with an elaborate bureaucratic language. Robert McFarlane is one of these. Although what he has to say is riveting, he almost sends one to sleep by the way the says it. His phrases do not seem to come directly from him but from some unseen ventriloquist.

Another thing about Americans is that most of them want to be on television. They like to be famous because they do not distinguish between fame and success. This is most striking in the cases of the three young women who have been catapulted to celebrity over the past few months. Take, for example, Miss Jessica Hahn, the church secretary who slept with the now defrocked television evangelist, Jim Bakker, and was promised $265,000 in hush money after threatening a $12.3 million lawsuit against him. Shameful conduct, one might think. But she didn't go into hiding. On the contrary, she paraded so often for the cameras that her exasperated lawyer was eventually reduced to ticking her off pub- licly, telling her to stop going around in a tight sweater making 'cute little remarks' to journalists.

awn Hall is in a different class, the face that launched a thousand TOW mis- siles. But she hasn't really got an enormous amount to be proud of. She only became famous because of a combination of her looks and the fact that, as Oliver North's personal secretary, she helped him falsify some documents and shred a lot of others. But she behaves as if she has been groomed for stardom and thoroughly en- joys it. In a recent issue of the Spectator, Taki grossly misrepresented an encounter I had with her at the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner. But tagging along behind the fearless Alan Rusbridger of the London Daily News to ALEXANDER CHANCELLOR get her signature on my programme, I did, it is true, manage to have a few words with her. She graciously told me how sad she was not yet to have visited London, but that she was hoping to be able to do so ere long. It was rather like talking to the Queen.

Then there is Donna Rice, the best looking of the three, who destroyed the presidential hopes of Gary Hart. She has been more elusive than the others, but even she held a press conference in Miami and appeared not the least bit rattled by the storm that had broken around her. She, too, had prepared for her role. With her mother's encouragement, she took modelling lessons when she was a 13-year- old schoolgirl. 'All the girls were taking modelling,' her mother explains. 'I thought the basic course would be good for her, to learn to walk properly and have poise.'

Miss Hahn and Miss Rice also share another characteristic which one would be unlikely to find in British girls of their type. This is an enduring involvement with reli- gion. Miss Hahn is, at least in theory, a devout non-conformist Protestant who said, when the Bakker scandal broke, that her main concern was that people should not think any the worse of Jesus Christ as a result. Miss Rice was described by her mother as 'a fine Christian girl', and at school in South Carolina she was an active member of the church and sang in the choir. Although she was later to display a weakness for the rich and famous, getting to know Ashnan Khashoggi and having an affair with Prince Albert of Monaco, it was only two years ago that she attended a Billy Graham crusade. Afterwards, she told a Florida newspaper in an interview that her life as a model in New York had been full of 'sins'. 'The lures of the world were pulling me away,' she said. 'I was drifting away from the living Jesus Christ.' But now, she added, 'I'm coming back.' In the United States, God works in a thoroughly mysterious way. Until this week, I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of the American who has apparently been doing so much to promote a peace conference on the Middle East, shuttling backwards and forwards between Jerusalem and Amman. His name is Wat. T. Cluverius 4th. For the benefit of the typesetters, I will repeat that. Wat T. Cluverius 4th. One of the joys of this country is its names, both of places and of people. Many of them are beautiful, as in the names of almost all the states; others are folksy and evocative, as in Gary Hart's home town, Troublesome Gulch; yet others are just extraordinary. There seem to be no conventions governing what pa- rents may call their children. I wonder if Wat T. Cluverius 4th has a son, and if so, whether he is called Wat T. Cluverius 5th? I have just been reading a book about the notorious witch-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy, and it contains some particular- ly good names. McCarthy had a bodyguard called Otis Gomillion and a campaign manager in Wisconsin called Urban P. Van Susteren. Van Susteren succeeded another man with an even better name. He was called Loyal Eddy. This was the man's entire name, Loyal being his Christian name and Eddy his surname.

The Americans are, of course, intense- ly patriotic. The Stars and Stripes flutters everywhere, and the nation's founding fathers enjoy a reverence not dissimilar to that which is given to Lenin in the Soviet Union. In the past few months I have paid three visits to Monticello, the wonderful house built for himself by Thomas Jeffer- son outside Charlottesville, Virginia, and one visit to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington on the Potomac river outside the capital. On all these occasions there were huge crowds of visitors queuing for as long as an hour and a half to obtain admission. But the interesting thing was that there were absolutely no blacks among them. This would indicate either that blacks do not like visiting country houses or, much more probably, that they feel uncomfortable on old Southern plantations restored and maintained to recall the age of slavery. The slavery aspect is played down. At Monticello, the guides tend not to mention it at all, although Jefferson had 140 slaves and depended entirely on them for the upkeep of his estate. But such sensitivity seems to make no difference. There are some Americans for whom, it seems, Washington and Jefferson will nev- er be heroes.

Alexander Chancellor is the US editor of the Independent.